Studio Tenn presents:
Gypsy (Sept. 17 – Oct. 4; Ages 12 and older)
Jamison Hall at The Factory
230 Franklin Road, Franklin
615-541-8200 • studiotenn.com
Show times: Thu – Fri 7 p.m., Sat 2 & 7 p.m., Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets: $31.50 – $85
Studio Tenn opens its sixth season with the beloved Broadway musical many critics and theater fans consider one of America’s greatest — Gypsy. With a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the show debuted in 1959 starring the great Ethel Merman (who remarkably lost the Tony Award to Mary Martin for her performance in The Sound of Music). Broadway revivals of Gypsy throughout the years have lured highly accomplished actresses to the starring role of “Mama Rose,” including Angela Lansbury in 1975, Bernadette Peters in 2003 and Patti LuPone in 2008. The musical is loosely based on the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee while focusing on her mother, Rose, the stage mother archetype.
Overall, Studio Tenn delivers an entertaining production of Gypsy, complete with a tight, 11-member orchestra providing the musical backdrop to popular numbers including “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” “Let Me Entertain You” and “Some People.”
As usual, Artist Director Matt Logan’s costume design is succinct and especially exquisite in Act II’s burlesque scenes. Logan and Mitch White’s scenic design is simple, yet sophisticated and appropriate to the vaudeville circuit for much of the show’s setting.
The production includes several children in the first act, spotlighting Caroline Hampton as “Baby June” and Ayla Williams as “Baby Louise.” With dazzling strobe lighting effects, Studio Tenn pulls off an amazing feat of theater magic when Baby June transforms into grown-up June on stage.
Memorable numbers are performed beautifully throughout, including Mia Rose Lynne’s (Louise) first solo, “Little Lamb,” as she ponders her true age on her birthday. It’s here that the audience is given a good dose of the reality of life with a maniacal stage mother from the child’s perspective. Lynne’s emotion here sets the stage for Louise’s eventual defiance of her control-freak mother.
Nan Gurley’s a Nashville favorite for good reason. She’s a tremendous actress and a pro in every sense of the word — and she can belt with the best of them. She’s the authentic standout talent in this show playing the lead role of Mama Rose.
I confess to one directorial disappointment I experienced in the pivotal train station scene when Mama Rose gets June’s hand-written note informing her she’s run away from their act with her supporting cast of players. Instead of Gurley facing the audience (while Herbie — a solid performance by another Nashville favorite, Matthew Carlton — and Louise contemplate a new beginning away from show business), she sits with her back to the audience. Unfortunately, this robs the audience and actress of what should have been a powerful moment — and one the audience desperately wants to see. It’s a moment that should humanize Rose for us — if only briefly — giving us a dose of empathy for the bombastic go-getter who we learn was abandoned by her own mother.
With a couple of Broadway credits on her resumé, Sarah Jane Nelson gives a fantastic performance as Mazeppa during “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” in the show’s burlesque scenes — scenes which are played safely and without edge, removing any worry that you can’t bring older kids to the show.
It’s interesting to note that there are eight current Belmont University students in this production. Indeed, Studio Tenn has been funneling them into its productions for a while now, and while it’s nice to see representation from my alma mater (1993 Belmont alum!), this seems to have changed Studio Tenn’s original mission established six years ago: to produce classic works of theater with casts comprising the best of Nashville’s professional acting pool along with current Broadway talent in leading roles. It’s what Studio Tenn set out to do that caused other theaters in town to sit up and take notice, raising the local bar. Casting college students is a cost-effective measure, and it’s certainly convenient to funnel the Belmont pool given that Studio Tenn’s talented choreographer (Emily Tello Speck) is a faculty member in the musical theater department at the university. Caution: the device provides a community-theater feel.
Don’t get me wrong, though. This production of Gypsy will certainly entertain you, and getting yourself to the theater is worth it to see Nan Gurley delivering the role of a lifetime while she’s in her prime.